State tightens restrictions as COVID-19 numbers rise
Wed, 11/18/2020 - 11:15am caleb
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services orders restaurants to close for dine-in service, high schools and colleges to suspend in-person learning
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) – in response to rising COVID-19 numbers in the state – announced a new mandate on Sunday, November 15, that orders the suspension of in-person learning at high schools and colleges and dine-in service at restaurants in the state of Michigan for three weeks starting on Wednesday, November 18. The order also further restricts gatherings and forces the closure of movie theaters and casinos.
“Under this order, indoor residential gatherings are limited to two households at any one time. However, MDHHS strongly urges families to pick a single other household to interact with over the next three weeks, consistent with new guidance released by the department. The order is aimed at limiting residential and non-residential gatherings where COVID-19 spreads rapidly. Bars and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining, carry-out, and delivery only. Gyms will remain open for individual exercise with strict safety measures in place. Casinos, movie theaters, and group exercise classes will be closed. Professional and college sports meeting extraordinary standards for risk mitigation may continue without spectators; however, all other organized sports must stop. Colleges and high schools may proceed with remote learning, but must end in-person classes,” according to MDHHS.
The MDHHS “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” announced on Sunday, November 15, says “indoor gatherings are prohibited at residential venues, except where no more than 10 persons from no more than 2 households are gathered,” and “indoor gatherings are prohibited at non-residential venues.”
“Outdoor gatherings are permitted at residential venues” if “25 or fewer persons are gathered, comprised of no more than 3 households.”
Outdoor gatherings are allowed at “non-residential venues” if “25 or fewer persons are gathered at a venue without fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20 persons per 1,000 square feet” or “25 or fewer persons are gathered at a venue with fixed seating, and attendance is limited to 20% of seating capacity of the venue.”
The order says that the gathering restrictions “do not apply to” several situations, including: “Incidental, temporary gatherings of persons in a shared space, such as frequently occur in an airport, bus station, exercise facility, food service establishment, shopping mall, or public pool; Gatherings between an employee and a customer for the purpose of receiving services; Workplace gatherings that occur consistent with the Emergency Rules issued by MIOSHA; Voting or official election-related activities; Training of law enforcement, correctional, medical, or first responder personnel; Education and support services at public, nonpublic, and boarding schools serving students in prekindergarten through grade 8; Children in a child-care organization or camp setting; Persons traveling on a school bus or other public transit; Gatherings for the purpose of medical treatment, including mental health and substance use disorder support services; Gatherings of up to 25 persons for the purpose of a funeral; Residential care facilities.”
The order says that “gatherings are prohibited” at “entertainment venues including auditoriums, arenas, banquet halls, cinemas, conference centers, concert halls, performance venues, sporting venues, stadiums, and theaters” and “recreational facilities and places of public amusement, including amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, casinos, night clubs, skating rinks, strip clubs, water parks, and trampoline parks.”
The order says that stores and a few other public facilities can remain open with limitations on the number of people inside at any one time.
“A gathering at a retail store, library, or museum must not exceed 30% of total occupancy limits established by the State Fire Marshal or a local fire marshal. Retail stores must establish lines to regulate entry and checkout, with markings for patrons to enable them to stand at least six feet apart from one another while waiting,” according to the order.
The November 15 “Gatherings and Face Mask Order” does not force personal care services to close; however, restrictions continue, and the businesses have to collect contact information from each client for tracing purposes.
“In facilities offering non-essential personal care services, including hair, nail, tanning, massage, traditional spa, tattoo, body art, and piercing services, and similar personal care services, gatherings are only permitted to the extent that services do not involve the removal of face masks. All services must be provided by appointment, and gatherings in waiting areas are prohibited,” according to the order.
The new order says that schools for grades K-8 can remain open for in-person learning, but high schools and colleges must transition to remote learning for three weeks.
“Gatherings at public, nonpublic, and boarding schools for the purpose of conducting in-person instruction, sports, and extracurricular activities serving pupils in grades 9 through 12 are prohibited, except for in-person instruction of pupils who are English Language Learners or participants in special education services,” according to the Gatherings and Face Mask Order. “Gatherings at public, nonpublic, and boarding schools for the purpose of conducting in-person instruction of pupils in prekindergarten through grade 8 are permitted, subject to local health department and school district decisions on remote learning. Gatherings for the purpose of sports and extracurricular activity are prohibited. Gatherings at colleges and universities are prohibited for the purpose of holding in-person classes, extracurricular events, or other events.”
The order allows college and professional sports to continue only with very strict procedures, including near-daily testing.
“Gatherings for the purpose of organized sports are prohibited unless all participants, teams, and venues comply with the enhanced testing regimen specified in the Additional Mitigation Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play without the use of Face Coverings section of MDHHS guidance on Additional Measures for Safer Athletic Practice and Play,” according to the order.
The Gatherings and Face Mask Order prohibits spectators at all sports for the three-week period.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association, following the announcement of the latest MDHHS order, said it is suspending games and practices for high school sports in the state for three weeks.
“The Michigan High School Athletic Association has suspended its fall tournaments for girls volleyball, girls swimming & diving, and football, and all winter practices and competitions scheduled to begin over the next three weeks per the emergency order to pause activity announced Sunday by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to limit the spread of COVID-19,” according to the MHSAA.
“We understand the need for action, and we will explore all options to complete our fall tournaments when restrictions are lifted. We will assess everything over the next three weeks relative to fall and winter sports and come up with a plan that keeps us connected to our goal, for months, of having three seasons that are played to their conclusions,” said Mark Uyl, MHSAA Executive Director.
The Gatherings and Face Mask Order continues the requirement for people to wear face coverings; there are some exceptions, including for people “who cannot medically tolerate a face mask.”
“All persons participating in gatherings are required to wear a face mask,” according to the order.
The order says that “local health departments are authorized to carry out and enforce the terms of this order.”
“Violation of this order is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or a fine of not more than $200, or both. Violations of this order are also punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000 for each violation or day that a violation continues,” according to the order.
According to MDHHS, COVID-19 cases in Michigan are at record numbers right now.
“On March 10, 2020, MDHHS identified the first two presumptive-positive cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. As of November 13, 2020, Michigan had seen 244,741 confirmed cases and 7,929 confirmed deaths attributable to COVID-19. Michigan was one of the states most heavily impacted by COVID-19 early in the pandemic, with new cases peaking at nearly 2,000 per day in late March. Strict preventative measures and the cooperation of Michiganders drove daily case numbers dramatically down to less than 200 confirmed cases in mid-June, greatly reducing the loss of life. Since October, Michigan has seen an exponential growth in cases. Daily new cases are now over 6,000, which is three times higher than what was seen in the spring,” according to MDHHS.
“The State of Michigan presently has a seven-day average of 512 cases per million people, which is five times higher than the case rate on October 1. Test positivity has increased from 3.2% in early October to 12% on November 13. And while testing has increased 78% since October 1, test positivity has increased 225% during that same time frame, indicating COVID-19 spread is happening much more quickly than tests being administered. All regions in Michigan are now at the highest risk level, with seven-day averages in excess of 150 cases per million residents. Rising cases creates significant pressure on our emergency and hospital systems. Complaints of coronavirus-like illness in emergency departments increased for the ninth week in a row for the state. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have doubled in less than two weeks, and there are now over 4.5 times the hospitalizations recorded on October 1. An average of 363 daily hospital admissions were seen in Michigan in the last week, and with individuals under 60 years old accounting for nearly half of all new hospital admissions. With over 3,000 Michiganders hospitalized for COVID-19, 15% of all available inpatient beds are now occupied by patients who have COVID-19, the highest number since mid-April. The state death rate is 5 deaths per million people and continues to increase. The current death rate is four times higher than it was in early October. There are more than 300 weekly deaths in Michigan and nearly every region has more than 20 weekly deaths. Due to delays between exposure, onset of symptoms, and hospitalization, the sharp rise in new infections suggests that the state is entering the most challenging phase of the pandemic thus far,” according to MDHHS.
“To protect vulnerable individuals, ensure the health care system can provide care for all health issues, and prevent spread in schools during the influenza season, we must reduce the spread of COVID-19. This necessitates use of more forceful mitigation techniques to reduce the spread of the virus,” according to MDHHS.